Celebrate Black History Month with Rochester’s Rich History!

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Frederick Douglass in Ireland

Presented by Dr. Tim Madigan

February 20, 2016


Rundel Auditorium, 3rd floor, Rundel Memorial Building

imagesCACSD0DPIn 1845 Frederick Douglass was invited by leaders of the worldwide abolitionist movement to come to Ireland, where he spent months visiting such cities as Dublin, Cork, Waterford, and Belfast and befriending orator and political leader Daniel O’Connell. Join us as we’re offered a glimpse of Douglass’s time in Ireland, where he came to feel for the first time that he was truly accepted as a human being.

To this day, Douglass remains a powerful figure for reconciliation in modern-day Ireland and Northern Ireland, with plaques commemorating him in Cork and Waterford, murals honoring him in Belfast, and a statue of him in Dublin.

O Tim Madigan and Danny Devenny  at Douglass Plaque Belfast June 2013

Dr. Madigan and muralist Danny Devenny in Belfast.

EE Tim Madigan with Plaque Honoring Douglass in Cork

Dr. Madigan at the Douglass plaque unveiling in Cork.

Dr. Tim Madigan is the Director of Irish Studies at St. John Fisher College in Rochester, New York, the city where Douglass lived for over 20 years after his return to America from his trip to Ireland.

~Cheri Crist, Librarian


Rochester featured in bicycling history

Several months ago, the Local History & Genealogy Division was contacted by a historian from the University of Vermont who was preparing to publish a book and wanted permission to reproduce several photographs from the library’s collection. Late last week, the result of his work arrived in the mail, and I was excited to discover that Rochester features somewhat prominently in the book.

51ViY7AOyEL._SX258_BO1,204,203,200_Old Wheelways: Traces of Bicycle History on the Land, by Robert L. McCullough, explores the ways in which the late-nineteenth-century bicycle craze affected the American social and geographical landscape and the way people viewed it. As he writes in his preface, “For roughly two decades, from 1880 to 1900, bicycles and bicyclists shaped and reshaped American social, cultural, economic, and industrial history; introduced an independent and dependable means of overland travel; propelled a campaign to improve the nation’s pitiful network of roads; influenced the appearance of cities in subtle ways; swayed park planners; and set into motion the modern machine and engineering technology essential to the development of automobiles and airplanes” (xi).


Members of the Rochester Bicycle Club with their high wheels in 1880. From the collection of the Local History & Genealogy Division, Rochester Public Library.

Bicycles were first introduced to the American public at the Philadelphia Centennial Exposition in 1876. The earliest contraptions to attract popularity were high-wheel bicycles with a large front wheel and a small rear wheel of the type shown in the photo above.

By 1880, when the national League of American Wheelman (LAW) was established, the more recognizable safety bicycles of today were starting to come into vogue. With their two equal-sized wheels, they proved easier to manage. But one problem remained: Where to ride? One cyclist, reporting on a tour in 1894, noted that “the greatest difficulty for touring in new districts was to find suitable points to obtain meals, but on more than one occasion the group also had trouble finding its way, venturing along cow paths of dubious outcome, into thick woods, across fields of high weeds, or through deep pockets of sand” (x).

side path map

Map of Side Paths of Monroe County, 1900. From the collection of the Local History & Genealogy Division, Rochester Public Library.

This led bicycling clubs to lobby for better roads and, eventually, for designated bike routes. The Rochester Wheelman’s League formed for this purpose in 1892, and by early 1896 Monroe County’s first side path association was established. In 1898, county and city lawmakers approved a law authorizing creation of the government-run Monroe County Side Path Commission. The area’s cyclists had already built and opened 130 miles of bike paths with private donations, and five years later, in 1901, the county touted as many as 193 miles of side paths (161-62).

Although these paths are gone now, we are fortunate that a photographic record still exists. Sidepaths: Monroe County, a scrapbook of photographs taken by Cline Rogers, is  preserved in the Local History & Genealogy Division. McCullough has reproduced many of these illustrations in his book, but you can also view the scrapbook online in the library’s digital collections: http://libraryweb.org/~digitized/books/Sidepaths_Monroe_County.pdf.

Robert McCullough, Old Wheelways: Traces of Bicycle History on the Land (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2015). We are currently cataloging this book. Look for it soon in the Local History & Genealogy Division.

-Christine L. Ridarsky, City Historian & Historical Services Consultant

Saved from the dustbin

I recently received quite a gem from Warren Guyon, who is employed with the city’s Environmental Services Department. Warren rescued a copy of the Rochester Song Book from disposal and brought it to Local History. I was on the fence about adding it to the collection; Central already holds five copies, all in better shape than this one. Plus, as much as I would like to keep multiple copies of every title in our collection, we simply don’t have the space or staff to do so.

However, when I opened the book I discovered that not only was it inscribed by author/compiler Kendrick P. Shedd, it also features a picture of him adhered to the front endpaper. Shedd was a beloved language professor at the U of R who was asked to leave in 1912 following his public remarks in support of socialism.

Which all goes to prove that you can’t always judge a book by its cover.

~Cheri Crist, Librarian

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Published in: on January 4, 2016 at 12:13 pm  Comments (2)  

New Exhibit in Local History!

You may not have realized (I didn’t, and I work here), but the Local History & Genealogy Division has a rather extensive collection of postcards dating back to the early 1900s. When I discovered this trove I thought, “Wouldn’t these make for a great exhibit?” As it turns out, they do!

Featuring items from our collection, “Greetings from Rochester: Exploring the Past through Postcards” looks at the history of postcards and what they can tell us about the people who used them and how they saw the place and time in which they lived. Commonplace objects with historical significance, these artifacts not only reveal what Rochester once looked like, they also show us what the people who lived here once did.

Visit our exhibit and travel to the past through these enchanting images of landscapes, businesses, amusement parks, lakeside resorts, grand hotels, dance halls, movie houses, theaters, trolley lines, and other compelling scenes from a bygone era.

The exhibit will be up from now through May 2016 in the main hallway of the Local History & Genealogy Division, 2nd floor Rundel Building, 115 South Avenue. Come check it out!

~Michelle Finn, Deputy City Historian

Next up in Rochester’s Rich History: Native American Storytelling


Next up in Rochester’s Rich History: Rochester’s Early Environmentalists

Mark your calendars for November 21! Travel back in time to the early days of environmentalism in Rochester when the Burroughs Audubon Nature Club was formed. This presentation features early twentieth century photographs of local parks and other natural areas. Come learn about the influence of John Burroughs on the naturalist movement in America, and discover the natural world of Rochester as seen through the eyes of its citizens over 100 years ago.


New York Times archives imperiled by flooding


Published in: on October 23, 2015 at 1:51 pm  Leave a Comment  

Discovering Your Roots: International Edition



Published in: on October 14, 2015 at 5:05 pm  Comments (1)  
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Join us for German-American Heritage Month


Published in: on September 29, 2015 at 3:48 pm  Leave a Comment  
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September Kick-off (Tip-Off?) of a brand-new season of Rochester’s Rich History!

Attention sports fans! If you haven’t heard of NBA 1951 champs the Rochester Royals, you REALLY need to check out Pat Farabaugh’s FREE talk about the team’s history this Saturday at 1 p.m. in the Rundel Auditorium. Throw on a pair of Converse and join us for the kickoff to the 2015/16 season of the Rochester’s Rich History series, “The Rochester Royals and the Legacy of Maurice Stokes and Jack Twyman”!

Farabaugh - Image 3


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